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Chief of CRA Is Leaving His Post

Riordan appointee was 'turnaround guy' for the troubled agency. Board members praise his accomplishments despite his rocky tenure.

October 18, 2002|Beth Shuster | Times Staff Writer

The head of the Community Redevelopment Agency is leaving his position, clearing the way for the mayor and the new board overseeing the agency to select a new management team.

Jerry Scharlin, who was appointed by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, took over the troubled city agency in 1999 when it faced serious financial and political problems. Scharlin was seen as "the turnaround guy," said CRA board Chairman David Farrar.

Scharlin, who had never worked in the public sector, quickly set about to restructure the agency, facing controversy along the way. He fired top administrators, who later claimed wrongful termination and were paid money by the city to resolve those claims. He also hired a private investigator to conduct an investigation into the agency's finances.

"I came in when the agency was in massive crisis, and the agency is no longer in crisis," Scharlin said Thursday. "We've gone through some very substantial improvements that I'm pleased about, that I think will set the stage for the long-term success of the agency."

Several of the current CRA board members, appointed by Mayor James K. Hahn, said Thursday that Scharlin did a good job in reorganizing the CRA but that they expected he would want someone else to lead it into its next phase.

His contract had expired, and a search firm was hired in July to locate possible successors. Scharlin, an accountant, said Thursday that he did not want to apply for the job.

The CRA uses property tax money to provide incentives for development in blighted areas, including purchasing land and selling it at a discount to builders.

The agency also has eminent domain powers, allowing it to seize private property to put together multiple parcels for large construction projects.

The CRA has a $342.4-million budget this year, $226 million of which is expected to be spent on programs.

Deputy Mayor Matt Middlebrook said the agency has the ability to significantly improve various areas of the city.

"If you use the tools the CRA has ... you can make a huge, huge positive impact in the city," Middlebrook said. "This is a big opportunity."

Scharlin is credited with developing a strategic plan for the agency, clarifying the budget and future cash flow, and repositioning the CRA by developing three new projects: two in downtown and one in San Pedro.

"Our budget had been going down, down, down" before Scharlin took over, Farrar said. "It's turning the corner because of new projects he championed."

Doug Ring, a CRA board member, said he believes that Scharlin did an admirable job under tough circumstances.

"His tenure has been rocky, but it's been rocky because he came into an agency which had lots and lots of problems," Ring said. "He made some faux pas that, had he worked in government before, he probably wouldn't have made."

Madeline Janis-Aparicio, a new board member, said there is new commitment at the board level to revitalizing the city through CRA projects.

"I think Jerry's done a really good job of working the agency into shape, especially internally," she said. "There's a desire now to make great changes."

A city controller's audit several years ago accused the agency of overpaying for property; Scharlin put in place new controls, including a project review team to examine all deals before approval.

But when he fired two top administrators, including the chief financial officer, the City Council was forced into paying $584,000 to settle wrongful discharge claims.

Scharlin angered some council members too, along the way.

He acknowledged last year that city politics and the CRA's problems presented "a very difficult and chaotic environment."

"I was in substantial shock," he said at the time.

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